New geochemical, isotopic and age data from igneous rocks complement earlier models of a long-lived and complex accretionary history for East African Orogen lithologies north of the Blue Nile in western Ethiopia, but throw doubt on the paradigm that ultramafic complexes of the region represent ophiolites and suture zones. Early magmatism is represented by a metavolcanic sequence dominated by pyroclastic deposits of predominantly basaltic andesite composition, which give a Rb–Sr whole-rock errorchron of 873±82 Ma. Steep REE patterns and strong enrichments of highly incompatible trace elements are similar to Andean-type, high-K to medium-K calc-alkaline rocks; εNd values between 4.0 and 6.8 reflect a young, thin continental edge. Interlayered basaltic flows are transitional to MORB and compare with mafic rocks formed in extensional, back-arc or inter-arc regimes. The data point to the significance of continental margin magmatism already at the earliest stages of plate convergence, in contrast with previous models for the East African Orogen. The metavolcanites overlap compositionally with the Kilaj intrusive complex dated at 866±20 Ma (U–Pb zircon) and a related suite of dykes that intrude thick carbonate-psammite sequences of supposedly pre-arc, continental shelf origin. Ultramafic complexes are akin to the Kilaj intrusion and the sediment-hosted dykes, and probably represent solitary intrusions formed in response to arc extension. Synkinematic composite plutons give crystallization ages of 699±2 Ma (Duksi, U–Pb zircon) and 651±5 Ma (Dogi, U–Pb titanite) and testify to a prolonged period of major (D1) contractional deformation during continental collision and closure of the ‘Mozambique Ocean’. The plutons are characterized by moderately peraluminous granodiorites and granites with εNd values of 1.0–2.0. They were coeval with shoshonitic, latitic, trachytic and rare trachybasaltic intrusions with very strong enrichments of highly incompatible trace elements and εNd of 0.4–8.0. The mafic end-member is ascribed to partial melting of enriched sub-continental mantle that carried a subduction component inherited from pre-collision subduction. Contemporaneous granodiorite and granite formation was related to crustal underplating of the mafic magmas and consequent melting of lower crustal material derived from the previously accreted, juvenile arc terranes of the East African Orogen.